“Flushable wipes” users try cleaning up in courtroom

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By Russ and Tiña De Maris
Sir Isaac Newton, the English physicist, is credited with the saying, “What goes up, must come down.” If Newton had been an RV owner he likely would have had a corollary for black water tanks: “What goes in, must come out.” Would Professor Newton have used flushable wipes in his motorhome?

charmin.com

If he had, he might be considering jumping into a class action lawsuit, now being settled with Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Charmin Freshmates Flushable Wipes. Proclaimed the label, “Flushable and safe for sewers and septic systems,” and nobody disputes that these personal hygine products are indeed, flushable. But in Newton’s unwritten corollary, what goes in, may not necessarily come out – when it’s time to dump the black water tank.

The lawsuit arose, not by an RVer but with an unhappy customer with plumbing issues. Consumers from across the country have likewise complained, as have sewage treatment operators, that Freshmates may be flushable, but they aren’t “safe for sewers.” A flush of complaints about these clogged pipes, backed-up sewers, and sewage pump breakdowns started backing up in places like Consumer Reports offices. It didn’t take long for an enterprising firm of lawyers to get a whiff of the sewage story and file a suit.

Proctor & Gambles’ baby, Charmin Freshmates, are little towelettes that are big business. Estimates suggest Charmin’s parent company and others who produce and sell these kinds of products have been wiping up in the neighborhood of $6 billion in sales annually. They’ve got a feeling that you’ll buy the feeling they’re shoving at you. The little wipers are typically made of paper, viscose fibers, and non-woven fabric. Pump in a little softening lotion and perfume, and these flushable wipes fly off the shelf. Look at it this way: You can buy ordinary facial tissue to wipe your nose, or you can buy the stuff that smells and feels nice. The same thing can be applied to wiping – er – other areas of your anatomy.

But once you’ve used the product, what do you do with it? Safe to flush? Says the lawsuit settlement notice, “The lawsuit contends that these wipes were inappropriately marketed as ‘flushable,’ ‘septic safe,’ and ‘safe for sewer and septic systems.’” For its part, “Proctor & Gamble denies these allegations and maintains that the wipes perform as advertised.”

Nevertheless, the company is prepared to belly up to the bar and shell out millions to settle a class action lawsuit. The big winners, of course, are the plaintiff’s attorneys, who are asking $3,200,000 for their work. The next big winner is the original complainant, who could get $10,000. And everyone else in the suit is entitled to: “a partial cash refund of (i) seventy cents ($0.70) per package purchased, up to $6.30 per Household without Proof of Purchase; or (ii) one dollar and twenty cents ($1.20) for the first package with Proof of Purchase (and $1.00 for any additional packages with Proof of Purchase), up to $50.20 per Household with Proof of Purchase.” Ah, but here’s more fine print in the contract: The suit is settling an issue for purchases of these wipes in New York State. An earlier class-action suit handled other states–and for those of us who missed out, too late.

Wow! For those who kept their receipts, up to fifty bucks! We know of a company that bills itself as “The RV Proctologist” that sends workers with power flushers to clean out constipated RV black water tanks. It would take more than two full settlement’s worth to hire just one round of their specialist services. So the best thing to do, avoid the problem. Here’s one way: If you want to use these genius personal hygiene products, stick a wastebasket next to your RV toilet and pitch the used wipes, as opposed to flushing them. That’s undoubtedly the safest route.

Next in line, watch this clever video post from The Fit RV as their intrepid white-coated scientific team (dad, and cute 7-year-old assistant) walk you through a test of a half-dozen different “flushable wipes” that reveals the few that might be safe to toss in your black water tank. Then decide for yourself where you want to put those wiped-out wipes.

If you missed out on hearing about this class action lawsuit, and bought your wipes in New York State,  move quickly! If you file the appropriate paperwork by August 22, you, too, can become a member of this rewarding suit, and have your part in cleaning up on Proctor & Gamble.

Updated 5/10/2020, 9:48 a.m., PDT: Clarifies the suit and filings are good only for purchases made in New York State.

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mark b
4 months ago

Our product and packaging laws need to reflect what we really want to leave to future generations. Unfortunately, too few people think in terms months, or even 1 year, let alone generations.

I have never used a disposable plastic water bottle or individual serving disposable plastic beverage container. I did use disposable diapers and some wipes for my children; wish there would have been viable alternatives. Only rarely has TP gone into my black tank. I have washcloths instead of wipes for most needs; paper towels are rarely used, even with Covid cleanup.

The question is not whether wipes are flushable, it’s why are you using so many single-use, disposable products.

Admin
RV Staff (@rvstaff)
4 months ago
Reply to  mark b

Hi, Mark. You mentioned using disposable diapers and some wipes for your children and wish there had been viable alternatives. Well, maybe my kids are older than your kids, but I always used cloth diapers and washcloths for them. Never anything disposable. 😀 —Diane (really old) at RVtravel.com

Ted Denman
4 months ago

And $3,2 millón dollars is why Lawyers LOVE Class Action Lawsuits!

Tom Smithbrother
4 months ago

Really cool experiment. Thanks !

Sc00ter
4 months ago

Lol, if it fits down the opening in the toilet, technically anything is flushable. Watch that Koehler commercial where the guy flushes golf balls down the stool. I think rewording is in order.

cee
4 months ago

Most reasonable folks would not flush butt wipes, even if they’re advertised as flushable. But some people are gullible enough to believe anything and set aside common sense.

John Aye
4 months ago

In other words, the attorneys clean up and the consumers get flushed

Cindy
4 months ago

We never even put paper in our toilet, so why would I think to put anything else in there? Really, it’s a matter of common sense. Those wipes don’t shred or fall apart so why would you think they would do it in the toilet?

Gene
4 months ago

I’m a wastewater professional, and trust me please… THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A FLUSHABLE WIPE. Many things will go down the toilet hole… Golf balls, bacon grease, steel shavings. But, that doesn’t mean the sewage system, all the way from your toilet to the treatment works can handle what can fit down the hole. These wipes cause fatbergs and clog pumps in the sewer mains. Even if they don’t clog pipes at your house, entire mains can fail miles away raising utility costs due to increased O&M. Just don’t use them. Putting them in garbage like a diaper pail is the next best bet.

Gregg
4 months ago
Reply to  Gene

I made a bunch of overtime $$$ de-raging pumps at sewer lift stations as these things constantly fouled the pumps!

Tommy Molnar
4 months ago

I wasn’t going to watch this lengthy video, but it was so well done I watched the whole thing. Very well done – and entertaining.

Firefly
4 months ago

Complain all you want about how little a piece of the action you are getting relative to others in the lawsuit. But if you didn’t have “an enterprising firm of lawyers” show up, those products would still be falsely advertised as safe for septic systems.

mdstudey
4 months ago

What a PITA. I rented out my house to a couple with young kids. I had monthly treatment of Rid X for a full year. I left instructions that only small amounts of TP could be flushed down the toilet. Well they left and unbeknownst to me left sewage mess that I did not know about. Next tenants move in and start have issues. Had the tank pumped and it was full of diaper wipes. We thought problem solved, nope. Because the wipes settled to the bottom everything flowed out though the leach line and caused a sewage leakage.

Retired and Traveling
4 months ago

If you file as a claimant, you must have purchased the product in New York state. This is from the FAQ page: “The Settlement also excludes persons who made their purchases outside of New York or those who purchased the Product for resale.”

Fred
4 months ago

We don’t use the flushables, but the suggestion of not flushing the flushables could also apply to regular toilet paper. We fold up the used squares, give them a slight twist to keep them folded & put them in a waste basket, just for them. We never put toilet paper in the black tank. We’ve also never had any blockage problems over the 10 years of our fulltime travel. However, not putting toilet paper in the tank doesn’t guarantee a completely clean tank that will flush out all solids. We have a built in flushing sprayer & tanks that are tilted towards the drain opening, but still get a thin layer of sludge that builds up on the bottom consisting of solids that your body doesn’t digest, like corn, seeds, etc. I’ve seen this each time I’ve opened up the tank to service & lube the electric gate valves over the years. Even though I am very thorough about flushing my tanks & we travel 15M miles per year fulltime, I’ve learned that having some sludge in the bottom of the tank is inevitable. But using flushables or too much toilet paper can cause them to ball up & plug the drain opening.

wanderer
4 months ago

One of the handful of parks with public dump stations in Quartzsite had to shut theirs down for days, at peak of this pastwinter season, because someone dumped a tankful of these into the station, and it apparently relied on a macerator pump which needed extensive repair. No telling how much money it cost them.

I remember one of the big networks doing a story about how New York’s sewage system was really hampered by all kinds of ‘flushable’ products several years ago. Clearly these manufacturers should have gotten a letter from the FTC the next day telling them to stop calling them flushable and put instructions for proper disposal on them. But they didn’t.

Ron
4 months ago

The fit rv video for flushable wipes was great.

robert
4 months ago

Again the only winners are the lawyers. Don’t understand why people think they are going to get all this money when they sue. It’s only the lawyers.